Poland

THIS spring the people of Poland celebrated the twentieth anniversary of what they termed the “liberation of Poland’s western territories,” meaning tlie former German provinces of Silesia, Posen, West Prussia, and Pomerania, whose eight million German inhabitants were forced in 1945 1946 to leave their homes and seek refuge in “rump Germany” beyond the river Oder. The celebrations were centered on the former German city of Breslau, today renamed Wroclaw and inhabited by nearly half a million Polish settlers. The city, which was badly bombed during the war, still awakes haunting memories of its origins in the architecture of its Gothic churches, in its surviving clusters of tidily bourgeois villas, and in the tomb of Germany’s great military strategist, General Karl von Clauscwitz.

The refrain repeated throughout the celebrations in the political speeches and in the mass displays put on by Polish youth was: the western territories are Polish, will be Polish, and can never be taken away from Poland. Since 1945 Poland has replaced the original. German inhabitants with eight million Poles, who make up 25 percent of the country’s labor force and contribute nearly 30 percent of its industrial production. Wroclaw has grown back to greatness, in spite of the tangled ruins which still crowd the city center.

Gdansk and Szczecin - once Danzig and Stettin are again major seaports. The Pomeranian seaboard is being developed for the tourist trade. Upper Silesia has become the hub of Poland’s economy, with its steadily expanding coal industry, and a steel output of eight million tons a year where practically no pre-war steel industry existed. In Wroclaw there are only about 500 Germans left, out of a former German population of 550,000. There are fewer than 40,000 Germans still living east of the Oder.

Yet the Poles are obsessed by the nagging fear that their western territories or at least a part of them could still be taken from them. Of the Great Powers which undertook the post-war reorganization of Germany, the Soviet Union and France, through the specific statements of General de Gaulle, have recognized the Oder-Neisse Line as Germany’s eastern frontier. So has the East German Republic. The United States, Britain, and the Federal German Government in Bonn have not, on the grounds that Germany’s frontiers can be fixed only by a German peace treaty. This hesitation does not imply any belief that the Oder-Neisse Line can be changed. On the contrary, it is regarded by West Germany’s allies as irrevocable and permanent; but its nonrecognition is held to offer an incentive to the Communist bloc to negotiate a fair and lasting peace treaty.

At the Wroclaw celebrations the Polish Prime Minister, Wladyslavv Gomulka, claimed that West Germany would not accept the Oder-Neisse Line because it is a militaristic and revanchist country determined to destroy the status quo in Central Europe. Nor would Poland subscribe to any sort of German reunification other than that proposed by the Russians, in which the two German states would form a confederation.

Pathological fear of West Germany

Poland’s fear of West Germany is assuming the proportions of a national neurosis. One reason for this is the country’s wartime sufferings. Poland lost more than six million inhabitants between 1939 and 1945, around 95 percent of them murdered in their homes or in the concentration camps. Warsaw and other principal cities were more than 70 percent destroyed. One out of every four homes was destroyed. Two million Poles who survived the war suffered permanent damage to their health.

A second reason for Poland’s fear of the Germans is their fatal habit of wild pronouncements. The West German Minister of Transport, HansChristoph Seebohm, has lately demanded the restoration of all those territories occupied by Germany when the Munich Agreement of 1938 was signed. In May, Dr. Adenauer’s former Head of the Chancellery, Hans Globke, stated that the infamous Nuremberg racial decrees against the Jews were really devised in the Jewish interest. In May, too, the West German Hundeswehr named army barracks after General Heinz Guderian, the man who took over leadership of the armed forces after the conspiracy to kill Hitler in July of 1944.

It has been argued by the West Germans that it is only a lunatic fringe which creates bad blood by its activities. But Polish politicians point out that West Germany’s leaders attend the sometimes frenzied rallies of German refugee organizations. underwrite the chauvinistic statements of Seebohm and others, and refuse to modify them whenever an elec tion campaign is impending. With a Federal election being held in September, the main West German parties are once again bidding for the refugee vote.

Gomulka’s troubles

It is suggested in some quarters that the Oder-Neisse Line provides tinGomulka regime with a useful diversionary scapegoat for its own faults and failures. Certainly the existing regime is far from popular at the moment. There are three reasons for this: there has been a marked tightening_of Communist authoritarian control; there are awkward pro blems which slowing_up economic progress: and there is a national mood of vague, largely unfocused dissatisfaction.

The tightening of Communist control began soon after the “Polish Spring” of 1956, when Stalinism was denounced and the “nationalCommunist” Gomulka regime was first installed. The Polish Spring brought a spirit of romanticism and a strong demand for greater freedom of speech, assembly, and the written word. Sharp criticism of the practical application of Communist ideology became the prerogative of Polish intellectuals, and there was a call for some sort of legal opposition in the Polish Parliament.

In 1957 Gomulka decided that the Polish Spring had moved too far and too fast. As long as twenty Red Army divisions sat in Fast Germany between the Oder and the Elbe, he could not visualize his country taking a middle position between Fast and West politically. It had to remain closely attached to the boviet Union. Gomulka therefore reversed his decision to inform public opinion by holding full and regular press conferences. He warned the intellectuals against undue freedom in their expressions of opinion, and in March of last year there was an open breach with a powerful group of thirty leading writers and academicians, who protested against the restrictions imposed on Polish culture.

Polish intellectuals are grumbling today because censorship is hamhandcdly applied (one author has just had to cut out many of the references to Khrushchev in a book about to be published), because criticism of the practical implementation of Gommunist theory cannot any longer he tolerated, because a book like Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich can be published in Moscow but not in Warsaw. In the search for greater freedom of mind among the satellite states, Poland has ceased to be undisputed leader and has dropped into second place behind Hungary.

There are very dillicult economic problems also. Because of the almost universally low wages, with a national average of only $68 a month, millions of Poles have to take a second job, and their wives have to work too. Prices are nearly up to Western European levels; it takes a bank clerk, for instance, a month and a half’s work to earn a TV set and a month’s work to pay for an overcoat. Rather naturally, men with two jobs do not put their hearts into either of them.

In April of this year there were only 89,000 registered unemployed, 76,000 of them women. There were 132,000 unfilled jobs, but only 15,000 of them for women. The drift away from the small market towns and into big centers of industry creates an acute housing shortage in the cities. Poland is building about 140,000 new homes a year, when something like 200,000 are needed. Young marrieds often wait for a year for a flat of their own.

Stepping up exports

Poland’s agricultural pjitput has been lagging for years past. Although the land is mainly in private hands and farmers are anxious to live well and work hard, the average holdings of between ten and twenty acres are not always economically productive. Farmers are inclined to eoncentrate on poultry, livestock, and root crops. As a result, Poland, with plenty of living space, is an importer of grain both for human consumption’and for fodder. Polish agriculture is undermechanized and lacks capital; during the present Five-Year Plan 12 percent of all investment has been channeled into agriculture; the target figure for the 19661970 Plan is 20 percent.

During the next five years, Poland wants to double its exports of agricultural produce and at the same time needs to feed its population much more efficiently. The quality of many foodstuffs is poor, and the cuisine is unimaginative.

Poland wants, also, to step up industrial exports. Industrial output has multiplied five times since the war, and the proportion of the population engaged in industry has jumped from 37 to 62 percent. Chemical, steel, and engineering industries have been built up. The Polish government has been considering entering into special relations with Western European firms for joint production and marketing projects, and negotiations have been going on in this held with the Essen firm of Friedrich Krupp. But selling Polish goods m a highly competitive Western European market is not easy, and the intake of them by the Eastern European version of the Common Market, Comecon, is limited by centralized Russian-directed planning. Ruble balances built up by Comeeon members are not convertible into gold and therefore remain nontransferablc. They do nothing to stimulate trade.

Economic stringeney

Overall economic progress continues, but it has slowed down perceptibly. This fact has heightened the mood of dissatisfaction, marked by an increasing demand for material benefits. The young Pole, like his contemporary in Western Europe or America, wants pop records, a TV set, a motorbike, even a car. He wants to travel, but this is possible only if someone abroad pays his fare both wavs for him and looks after him financially while he is out of Poland.

Economic stringency has lately brought a spate of trade scandals. There has been a meat scandal, an egg scandal, two leather-goods scandals, a Rumanian wine scandal, and — absurd-sounding — a gariicand-marjoram scandal. The meat scandal was a major affair and led to a death sentence, which was carried out — the first time for twelve years that anybody has been executed for peculation. The meat scandal produced, too, one of the jokes which Poles coin so readily:

Pre-war we had shops labeled ‘Butcher’ and there was meat inside, while today the same shops are labeled ‘Meat’ and inside there is just the butcher.”

In spite of the joking, there are all sorts of signs of a mood of national malaise. The birthrate has dropped to a startling degree — live births annually, even with a much larger population, arc down from 760,000 in 1950 to 600,000 last year. The incidence of divorce has doubled since 1950. Infant mortality has decreased but is still about 50 per 1000 — alarmingly high compared with Czechoslovakia’s 22. The suicide rate rises, slowly, for the Poles have a tenacious hold on life.

From the point of view of the West, what has to be kept alive in presentday Poland is an independent spirit of inquiry and an objective sense of criticism. Young Poles have become unpolitical. Mainly, they want to be left alone and to lead a fuller life. However efficient he is at consolidating orthodox Communism, Gomulka will have to reckon increasingly with the younger generation.

From the point of view of the West, too, a recognition of the OderNcisse Line by all Germans would be helpful. The Poles have a healthy interest in encouraging a relaxation of tension in Central Europe — witness the Gomulka Plan for the freezing of nuclear weapons there, and the more ambitious Rapacki Plan for creating a nuclear-free zone. Polish interest in promoting peace is loudly proclaimed and totally sincere.

For the time being Poland is wedded to the Soviet Union in the field of foreign affairs, although mutual attachment is only skin-deep. Lately there was a widely circulated slogan on view: “This is SovietPolish Friendship Month!” Underneath, some Pole had scrawled: “All right, but not a day longer.”With their courage and wit, the Poles are surviving. Detente is their hope, and the day should come when they will give to Central Europe much more of their brand of individualism and of their homemade correctives to Marxism.

The American presence

By the standards set by other embassies, the American Embassy in Warsaw is overstaffed, with roughly three times as many personnel as the British Embassy. Polish applicants for visas to the United States have to be politically screened. This is a wearisome process. Figures for the number of visas granted each month are not readily available, but the average runs around sixty to eighty.

The U.S. ambassador in Warsaw is regarded, outside his own embassy, as not more than adequate. An expert on South American affairs, he is always ready to talk about his experience in South America and shows some lack of interest in Poland, its language, culture, people, and politics.

The U.S. minister is regarded by impartial observers as being less well versed in diplomacy but much more interested in Polish affairs than the ambassador. Two members of the embassy staff, William F. Donnelly, outstandingly able and intelligent, and John D. Scanlon, well informed and sound, have productive social contact with Poles.

The U.S. Embassy staff appears to have been most discreet during the very difficult period ensuing since the bombing of North Vietnam began. The ambassador and his staff stayed away from the celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of the freeing of the “western territories” in May, and the British ambassador stayed away too as a gesture of solidarity. There were small-scale demonstrations in front of the U.S. Embassy when the bombings began, but no serious incidents.